The stories of the men who left their homes in Mexico, came to the United States and found work in the vineyards in the Napa Valley are similar.
Some were part of the “Bracero” program, most came alone, leaving their families in Mexico; all had dreams of a better life. Those dreams included starting their own vineyard management businesses, owning land and planting vines. All of them worked hard, many staying with the same employer for decades.
The catalysts for the first Mexican-American Vintners tasting event are TBA (Total Brand Awareness) Napa, owned by Napan Thomas Bracamontes and St. Helena’s 750 Wines. It will be held from 5-7 p.m. Friday, May 9, at 750 Wines at 1224 Adams St., which is owned by David and Monica Stevens.
Wines from 11 Mexican-American vintners will be poured. They include Ceja Vineyards, Delgadillo Cellars, Encanto Vineyards, Frias Family Vineyards, Justicia Wines, Madrigal Family Winery, Maldonado Vineyards, Mario Bazan Cellars, Realm Cellars, Renteria Wines and Robledo Family Winery.
The public is welcome and RSVPs are requested by emailing email@example.com or calling 963-0750.
Many of those immigrants came to the Napa Valley in the 1960s and 1970s; Don Enrique Segura was one of the first as he came to the United States in 1946.
According to the Encanto Vineyards’ website, he had a steady job at Beringer in 1954 and then worked for Robert and Peter Mondavi at Charles Krug, where he stayed until his death in 1983.
Segura became a permanent U.S. resident in 1961, and with his children’s help, he brought two of his children to the U.S. in 1968 and his wife and younger children followed in 1972.
One of those children is Rosaura Segura, a St. Helena resident, who, inspired by her father’s stories, worked to pass a Napa County measure that taxes vineyard owners to provide migrant housing.
Segura’s husband, Enrique Lopez, is the youngest of 14 children. His father died when he was 2, and he was the only one of 14 who went to college, earning a degree in chemical engineering.
After coming to the Napa Valley, he landed a job in the lab at Warren Winiarski’s Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars. He was a chemical engineer there from 1988 to 1998, but in 2000 he started Servin Lopez Vineyard Management.
In 2002, the Seguras bought 20 acres of land in the Big Valley appellation in Lake County and planted it to sauvignon blanc. Although they sell most of their fruit, the first release under their company, Encanto Vineyards, was a 2008 sauvignon blanc. Their winemaker is Rudy Zuidema.
Rosaura and Enrique have four children, one of them, Horacio Lopez-Segura, is studying enology and viticulture at Fresno State University.
Ceja Vineyards — Napa
Today, Dalia Ceja represents the third generation at Ceja Vineyards. She is the director of sales and marketing at the family winery.
In 1967, Pablo Ceja, his wife, Juanita, and their six children immigrated to the U.S., moved to St. Helena where they rented a modest house. Both Pablo and Juanita found work in a local winery. Ten years later, they moved to the Carneros region and had 10 children. The parents encouraged all of them to go to college; Pedro (engineering) and Armando (enology and viticulture) did.
In 1980, Pedro married Amelia Moran Fuentes and, three years later, they pooled their money with Armando and their parents and bought 15 acres of land in Carneros.
In 1986, Armando married Martha Brambilla and planted 13 acres with pinot noir. The first harvest was two years later.
In 1999, the two couples, Pedro and Amelia and Armando and Martha, founded Ceja Vineyards Inc. with the intention of producing premium Carneros wines.
Dalia is the daughter of Pedro and Amelia.
Delgadillo Cellars —
After 30 years tending vines and many of those making wine, Ignacio Delgadillo Sr. was a private vineyard contractor, who had established a custom wood business, Wine Country Cases. He started in 1975 at Freemark Abbey and in 2001, he and his son, Ignacio Jr., founded Delgadillo Cellars.
The father-and-son team’s first vintage was in 2001 and the single-vineyard cabernet sauvignon was made from grapes grown on a 2.5-acre site called the Mill Creek Vineyard. (The Delgadillos farm the site and buy the grapes but don’t own the property.)
The vineyard was planted between 1971 and 1976, spur pruned, ladder trained and dry farmed, according to the website. Those vines were budded predominantly from Nathan Fay’s Stags Leap-area vineyard.
After the vines were established for two years, the site has been dry farmed. Yields are between 2.5 and 4.5 tons an acre. The family also grows grapes on its Coombsville Vineyard.
Frias Family Vineyard – St. Helena
In the late 1940s, Manuel Frias and his wife moved to San Francisco. He first worked for Chesterfield Cigarettes and then worked in exports with Schlage Lock Co. in San Francisco.
His son, Manny, grew up in San Francisco, visited the Napa Valley with a friend when he was in college and tasted the wines at Beaulieu, Beringer and Heitz, when a bottle of Heitz cost $3.
Manny and his wife, Maria, have five children. Manny was in the middle of a career in San Francisco, when he and his father paid $100,000 for 100 acres on Spring Mountain that included a Victorian farmhouse in 1977. (The family sold three properties in San Francisco to finance the purchase, according to the website.)
The woman who owned the land and farmhouse was 83 and one of the stipulations of the sale was that she got life tenancy on the property. The Friases agreed to this and five years later, she became ill and moved to St. Helena to be with her sister. Manny’s parents moved into the farmhouse in 1983.
Manny started taking viticulture classes and in 1985 planted a small vineyard as a hobby, its first vintage was 1988.
The father and son initially planted five hillside acres in 1985 and later planted eight more on their 100 acres on Spring Mountain. The first commercial vintage was 1991. After two years at Merryvale Vineyards as a custom crush client, Greg Graham was hired as winemaker in 1993. He left after the 1999 vintage and Bruce Devlin was winemaker from 2000-2003. Todd Heth has been winemaker since 2004.
Justicia Wines – Calistoga
Rafael Rios III grew up in the Napa Valley, earned a degree in landscape architecture and returned to Santa Clara University to study law. He graduated in 1994 and returned to the Napa Valley. His law practice handles wine, business, real estate and immigration issues.
Rios is one of the founding members of the Napa Sonoma Mexican-American Vintners Association and is currently its president.
Its mission, Rios said, “is to promote Napa and Sonoma wines produced by Mexican-American vintners, to advocate quality standards for its members, to promote and support the contributions of Mexican-Americans in the wine industry and to support education in Napa and Sonoma counties.”